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Court accepts prosecution request for delay in Netanyahu trial amid wiretap claims

Deferment granted until Sunday to allow completion of examination of allegations that police illicitly spied on witnesses, defendants

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a court hearing in his trial, November 16, 2021, in Jerusalem. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)
Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a court hearing in his trial, November 16, 2021, in Jerusalem. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

The Jerusalem District Court on Tuesday accepted the prosecution’s request to cancel a hearing scheduled for Wednesday in former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial, in order to provide more time for state attorneys to probe whether police illicitly tapped the phones of key witnesses.

It was the second hearing that the court agreed to cancel this week, after canceling Tuesday’s, as fallout from the police spyware scandal continues to snowball.

The prosecution told the court on Tuesday that its investigation into the alleged hacking of the phone of Shlomo Filber, a former Communications Ministry director general and a key state witness in the most serious case against Netanyahu, was still ongoing.

The court acceded to the prosecution’s request, giving it until Sunday at 2 p.m. to present its findings on Filber and any other instances of alleged spyware abuse. According to Haaretz, initial findings have not indicated that police violated a court-approved warrant in their tapping of Filber’s phone.

The prosecution is seeking to show that law enforcement did not breach any laws in its treatment of Filber, and hopes to stymie a petition filed by Netanyahu’s attorneys on Monday calling for a pause in the trial.

The defense petition is based on an explosive report that alleged that the Israel Police used the NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware to hack into the phones of a wide range of public figures — including associates and family members of Netanyahu as well as multiple people currently involved in the trial — without judicial oversight or approval.

According to the report, which was unsourced, police hacked the phones of former Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua; former Communications Ministry directors general Filber and Avi Berger; Iris Elovitch, the wife of Shaul Elovitch, the former controlling shareholder of Bezeq, both of whom are defendants in the Netanyahu trial; former Bezeq CEOs Dudu Mizrachi and Stella Hendler; former Walla editor-in-chief Aviram Elad and other journalists at Walla, and others.

The abuse of the spyware reportedly extended far beyond people involved in the Netanyahu investigation and trial, with those illicitly targeted also said to include activists and demonstrators (including anti-Netanyahu protesters), mayors, ministry directors general, journalists and others.

Former Communications Ministry director-general Shlomo Filber arrives for a hearing at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court on February 18, 2018. (Flash90)

In Case 4000, one of the three graft cases in which the former prime minister is on trial, Netanyahu is alleged to have advanced regulatory decisions as communications minister and prime minister that immensely benefited Bezeq’s Elovitch, in exchange for editorial control over the Walla news site, also controlled by Elovitch. The former premier denies the charges against him.

Yeshua, the first witness to testify in the corruption trial, appeared in court repeatedly over a period of several months. Elad and Berger have also testified, and Filber had been slated to take the stand in the coming weeks.

Jack Chen, an attorney for the Elovitches, said Monday that “for years we have been warning against a flawed and tendentious investigation that crossed all boundaries.” Today, he said, in light of the reports, “nobody can keep saying that we exaggerated.”

Chen said “the most urgent thing to do for all of our sakes is to stop, conduct an independent investigation of what happened, understand its significance and then start making corrections.”

Former Bezeq chief Shaul Elovitch, one of the defendants, arrives for a court hearing in the trial of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the District Court in Jerusalem on February 7, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The report published Monday, weeks after Calcalist first reported on the alleged police use of such tactics, also said that Avner Netanyahu, the son of the former prime minister, and Netanyahu advisers Yonatan Urich and Topaz Luk had been targeted. Avner Netanyahu’s phone was said to have been hacked due to police suspicions that his mother, Sara, used it.

News that Filber was targeted by police spying first broke last week, though the Kan public broadcaster reported that so far, prosecutors believe any improper use of spyware technology was not tied to evidence used in the Netanyahu case.

On Friday, the Jerusalem District Court gave state prosecutors until Tuesday to answer questions from the defense about police use of spyware in the investigation into the former premier.

Attorneys for Netanyahu and other defendants in the case have demanded to know exactly what data was obtained, how it was used and whether others involved in the trial were also targeted in the operation, among other questions. Prosecutors have said they are examining the matter.

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